Everyone knows the importance of clear, effective communication. I have yet to meet anyone who believes that communication is completely unimportant (even my 3 year old grasps the concept that BEING HEARD WILL GET YOU STUFF.) Most of us also believe that we”re crack communicators – spoken and/or written, and it”s everyone else that has the problem.
So we hone our message, practice in front of the mirror, and ignore the glaringly obvious law of communication that has been staring us in the face since the dawn of time: IT”S NOT ABOUT YOU. Seriously, it”s not. Take a conversation between two people. In order for actual communication of ideas to occur, both people must leave the interaction having first sent and then received the same message. So, 50% of the task falls to the speaker, and 50% to the listener. Did you get that? Only 50% of the task is that of the speaker. Communication is, in fact, the great equalizer. Every person involved in the interaction is equally important if our goal is to communicate effectively. Now think about big group meetings with 25 people involved and only 1 speaker. Each of those people is 0.04% of the equation, and so on with bigger groups. The speaker is never the star…unless they”re speaking only to themselves. (Which sadly, happens a lot more than one would like to think.)
I had a client once, we will call him Bob, who informed me on a regular basis that his verbal communication was excellent. This was usually in the middle of a tangential tirade involving incomprehensible jargon (we were not in the same field of work), more description of himself, his people and various situations that you could possibly count, and very, very little direction or discussion on the task for which he had called the meeting. Needless to say, Bob was often frustrated by those around him, and those around him were often frustrated as well.
There are laws, fixed and finite, that govern communication. Follow them, and you may run into difficulties that you had never considered. Break them, and while you may never realize it, you will be like Bob, forever wondering why people can”t seem to understand you, listen to you, or do what you want.
First Law: (LCD) Lowest Common Denominator
If you are lucky enough to only communicate with people who are smarter than you, then you may ignore this rule. Otherwise, read carefully: your message is only as brilliant as far it is understood. A communicator”s job is not to wow people with intricacies of thought, verbal gymnastics, or a vocabulary that Shakespeare would envy. Successful communicators know how to get an idea from their brain into someone else”s brain in a way that the other person can comprehend, respond, and react appropriately.
Remember the 2 Cs: be clear, be concise. A well-constructed sound byte will last in your listener”s memory far longer than your entire message. If your message has many equally important parts, chunk them up, and give each their own “headline” – a takeaway that you want your listeners to remember.
Second Law: He Who Has Ears, Let Him Hear
Listening, and especially “active listening” have been communication”s Holy Grail for a few years now. Listening in such a way that the speaker knows your focus is on them, responding often, and maintaining eye contact have all been taught as the one true path to enlightenment. There are two unfortunate side effects to this well meaning strategy: you may be so focused on looking like you are listening that you forget to actually listen, or your intent in listening is to respond rather than to understand. Master communicators know the most important aspect of listening is to focus. They know not to multitask. They take each message one at a time, and ensure proper understanding by all parties concerned. To give a tennis analogy, master communicators know to rally and don”t jump right to their overhead smash.
Strong communicators are not afraid to ask for clarification if they feel they need it, nor are they afraid to paraphrase the speaker”s message as they understand it in order to check for inaccuracies. These little checks and double checks can save time, frustration, and if you need a project completed, they will save you money. Interoffice friction is almost always based on a lack of proper communication, or the sheer number of miscommunications that abound in a given work day. Miscommunications are rarely anyone”s fault, but they are everyone”s responsibility.
Third Law: Horton”s Law
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant”s faithful 100 percent.” (Horton Hears a Who, Dr. Seuss)
Even if your message is delivered and understood perfectly, your communication will suffer if it cannot be trusted. At the end of the day words are just words, and if yours don”t match your actions, they will lose their magic. Master communicators constantly monitor the message they deliver not only for clarity, but also for feasibility. Best practice if you aren”t sure exactly what you can accomplish, if you”re relying on words rather than numbers: under promise and over deliver.
That will make people stand up and listen.
Now, as my significant other knows, writing a good email can cover a multitude of sins. If your writing is up to snuff, then try writing out your message before speaking it – chances are you will have written in such a way as to avoid obfuscation and consternation (see what I did there??) and your message will be received mostly intact.
Defending against miscommunications and misunderstandings by tailoring your message to your audience, asking for clarification, listening to understand, and doing what you say may at first seem cumbersome, but will soon be second nature (and will pay off in other areas of your life as well.)
(“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Ralph Waldo Emerson)